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One month on from another epic two-night WrestleMania, WWE presented their next Premium Live Event (PLE) looking to capitalise on the momentum the company has slowly curated over the past few weeks.
Some social media ire had been thrown towards the name of the PLE, with some bored with the inclusion and sustained use of the Mania name. But with a myriad of rematches from April’s ‘Show of Shows’, that particular gripe seemed misplaced.
A tight six match card featuring no fewer than four re-runs instead posed an interesting question. Is a sequel ever better than the original? Our King Of The Ring, Andy Spoors, picks out the talking points of a notoriously difficult slot on WWE’s calendar…
WrestleMania is all about the moments. Creating magical matches, pulsating promos or delivering something jaw dropping that will last forever. Every wrestling fan remembers Hogan body-slamming Andre The Giant, Stone Cold selling his soul to the devil and Brock Lesnar breaking The Undertaker’s infamous streak.
But would any of those moments resonate if tried again? What if WWE tried to run it back little over a month later? Once the genie is out the bottle, it’s nearly impossible to replicate the magic. Just 35 days on, four rematches attempted to use their first outing as a launchpad to deliver a better sequel.
In terms of in the ring, happily, all four achieved that goal. In particular, an added stipulation of an ‘I Quit’ match in the Charlotte Flair vs Ronda Rousey match injected not only more interest but some much needed flavour into a rivalry that has fell flat at times.
The pair’s chemistry hasn’t felt as tangible as fans may have hoped for: Flair’s undoubted talent combined with Rousey’s star factor not quite reaching the heady heights of the triple threat match at WrestleMania 35 when Becky Lynch walked out as Becky Two Belts.
Here, the pair brawled through the crowd and used multiple weapons to up the ante. The constant submission manoeuvres provided a thread throughout the match with both women looking to cement themselves as the superior technician. Digging deep, it was Ronda’s night as she emerged victorious and crowned the new SmackDown Women’s Champion.
The addition of MVP into the Bobby Lashley vs Omos match also developed the feud to a new level and in the process gave the latter a much needed mouthpiece. The giant Superstar can now concentrate on his in-ring ability.
An Embarrassment Of Riches
With WrestleMania featuring 16 matches over two nights, it was inevitable that some would miss out on the much leaner Backlash card. Over the past few years, WWE have released a plethora of talent much to the chagrin of fans all over the world.
On one hand the company has been stocking up on some of the best talent in the business but on the other there are only a certain amount of spots to fill on each show. Some of the Superstars that have left the company have gone on to star on other shows or make a name for themselves on the independent scene.
Such is the depth of the roster, even after the wide-scale releases, WrestleMania Backlash was a very solid show. Even more notable were the Superstars and titles that did not feature. Arguably the stars of Mania weekend in Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn had no feuds to move on to or present on this PLE. Becky Lynch, Asuka, Finn Balor, Bianca Belair, Ricochet and Shinsuke Nakamura did not feature.
Bonafide future Hall of Famers, The New Day, Sheamus and Brock Lesnar were nowhere to be seen. As for titles, only the SmackDown Women’s Championship was on the line at Backlash. Sure there were champions in the main event, but there was no jeopardy. No Intercontinental Championship, no Tag Team Championships (male or female), no US Championship or even 24/7 Title to mention.
Fans may lament the ongoing release strategy the company seems to adhere to but the sheer amount of Superstars the company still has to offer is spectacular. On the other side of the coin is the huge reception afforded for the return of Cody Rhodes. WWE must continue to work on a case by case basis when it comes to giving fans what they want, utilise the unbridled talent already on the books but not be afraid to freshen things up.
Rollin’ Down The Rhodes
There would be very little argument from the WWE Universe if you said Cody Rhodes and Seth Rollins stole WrestleMania weekend. From the huge crowd pop for Cody’s entrance through to the final bell, fans were treated to a wrestling classic.
Wrestling has been somewhat of a banned word in recent decades for WWE, but the back and forth between Rollins and Rhodes was some of the best wrestling seen on the main roster in years.
With no build up, the pair were able to tell a story throughout their 22 minute match that could have stood alone or, as it turned out, provide an opening chapter in a mouth-watering rivalry.
In reality the seeds were sown when Rollins was hand-picked by Cody’s dad, the legendary Dusty Rhodes to be the future of the company during their NXT days. Cody, looking to change the landscape of wrestling left WWE and helped create AEW, a legitimate alternative to WWE programming, before returning with his own redemption story.
One of the greatest to appear in WWE, Dusty Rhodes never had a tenure as the company’s champion. Intent on righting this wrong, Cody has made his intentions clear and has come back to win the WWE Championship.
Some social media barbs aside, a healthy respect seems to be in place between Rollins and Rhodes and on the basis of their match at both WrestleMania and Backlash, their chemistry is undeniable.
Another 20 minute match offered fans the opportunity to sink their teeth into what is fast becoming one of the rivalries of the year. Rhodes once again claimed the victory, this time playing his opponent at his own game and pinning Rollins with a handful of tights.
The next night on Raw proved that this feud is far from over and we can’t wait to see what the next chapter has to offer…
Blood Is Thicker Than Water
Originally billed as a tag team championship unification match between SmackDown Champions, The Usos and Raw Champions, RK-Bro, the main event instead evolved into a six man tag match.
The Usos, joined by their cousin, tribal chief and Undisputed WWE Universal Champion, Roman Reigns, faced off against the team of RK-Bro and Drew McIntyre. The Scottish Warrior’s inclusion seemingly hinted at an upcoming rivalry with Reigns.
With the UK PLE in September, it would take a brave man to bet against WWE playing to a home crowd and having the pair face off for at least one title on that particular event. The recent speculation that Reigns will take some time away from the company as part of his new contract is somewhat baffling with three upcoming Stadium events on the horizon.
The match itself was a fast and frantic affair from start to finish. All six men not only held their own but proved why they belong at the very top of the billing. The Usos continue to dominate after years of battling to make the tag team division relevant. There may not be many teams on WWE’s books, but Jimmy and Jey consistently put on fantastic matches against every opponent served up.
In RK-Bro, WWE has a shining example of putting two Superstars together and creating magic. Randy Orton recently celebrated 20 years with the company and, quite frankly, has never looked like he has enjoyed himself more than this run with Riddle.
Riddle continues to progress and seemingly absorb the charisma and smoothness his tag team partner has presented over a hall of fame career. What more can be said about Roman Reigns that hasn’t already been said? After years of being pushed to the top of the company and fans rejecting him, Reigns has reached the top of the mountain and simply looks like a star.
There’s a swagger and presence that has developed naturally. His cadence on the mic is smooth. His catalogue of matches is growing, as is his list of victories (another one here too). The question was asked after John Cena began to take more and more acting gigs, of where the next level Superstar would come from. That question has its answer, but a new question has emerged. Who is next after Roman Reigns?
If WWE are brave, it could very well be the Superstar that finally topples the Head of The Table…